Hundreds of Amazon workers in the US went on strike after a warehouse fire

Staten Island Amazon workers stand up to industry giant regarding safety hazards, citing a string of workplace-related deaths

October 04, 2022 by Natalia Marques
Fire at the JFK8 Amazon warehouse.

In what the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) is calling “perhaps the largest collective action ever taken by Amazon Workers,” over 650 workers walked off the job last night, on October 3, at the Staten Island JFK8 fulfillment center.

On October 3, a fire broke out in a cardboard compactor in JFK8 while day-shift workers were still on the job. According to reports, this compactor had smoke coming out of it a month ago, yet Amazon refused to replace it. After the fire broke out, day-shift workers claim they were sent home early with promises of pay. The fire was eventually put out that same day, but night-shift workers, who claimed there was still smoke from the fire, worried about the dangerous effects of inhaling the smoke.

Around 8 pm, Amazon night-shift workers were sent out onto the floor after bosses claimed it was a “safe work environment.” In response, the hundreds of night-shift workers who had been reportedly herded into the break room while the fire was raging demanded to be sent home with pay. Over 650 spontaneously walked out of the break room and off the job and around 100 occupied the human resources office.

The JFK8 warehouse became a site of one of the most pivotal working class victories this year when in April, workers at the warehouse voted to unionize Amazon workers for the first time in the US. The Amazon Labor Union, which began at JFK8 but has since spread, says that workers on October 3 were expressing three basic demands: “Put workers’ lives over corporate profits, real raises to keep up with inflation, and recognize the Amazon Labor Union.”

The Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) opened an investigation against Amazon after three workers died within weeks of each other in New Jersey. And according to the ALU, Amazon’s most recent raises for JFK8 workers are effectively pay cuts after taking inflation into account. “In the past week, Amazon announced 25 cent raises…With inflation at 9.1%, this “raise” is effectively a pay cut of over $1.85/hour. Workers are disgusted with the announced plan,” the union explained.

Despite workers voting to unionize with ALU in April, with over 500 votes in favor, Amazon has yet to recognize the labor union. “The NLRB hearing officer threw out all 25 of Amazon’s “objections” to our election and yet Andy Jassy continues to stall,” the union states. “Workers are fed up and are demanding immediate bargaining over pay and working conditions.”

Amazon has responded to the worker-led action, claiming that “while the vast majority of employees reported to their workstations, a small group refused to return to work and remained in the building without permission.”

But things were far different according to ALU. “Hundreds of Workers bravely marched from the break room into the Manager’s office to make their demands clear. From there, some Workers walked out of JFK8 in disgust while others continued to occupy the break room waiting for a response from Amazon,” the union wrote.

“The ALU says Rights Over Rates. We have the right to our lives, the right to real raises, and the right to union recognition.”